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Speaker: Ruby Mendenhall
Associate Professor in Sociology, African American Studies, Urban and Regional Planning, and Social Work

Data Science Lecture Series: Using Big Data to Ask Sociological Questions: Recovering Black Women’s Lived Experiences from 1740 to 2014

Tuesday, February 7, 2017
4:00 PM  to 5:00 PM

McMurtry Auditorium  Duncan Hall
Rice University
6100 Main St

Make plans now to attend the Data Science Lecture Series on Tuesday, Feburary 7th in Duncan Hall and hear from 2016 IDC HPC Innovation Excellence Award Winner Ruby Mendenhall. Big data and computational analysis are often far from neutral processes and sites unimpeded by the political, social and economic context in which they emerged and are utilized. The methods, theories, perspectives and the related digital tools developed often reproduce the social divisions that exist in society. This study is an effort to recover Black women’s history from the digital minefield by searching approximately 800,000 books, newspapers, poems, diaries and articles in the HathiTrust and JSTOR Digital Libraries between 1740 and 2014 for documents written by or about Black women. Latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) algorithms and comparative text mining are used to explore latent themes in collections written within and across different time periods. Data visualization techniques, such as tree maps, are used to identify spikes in certain topics during various historical contexts such as slavery, reconstruction, Jim Crow, etc. The goal is to identify perceptions and lived experiences of Black women and the resulting knowledge (standpoints) that developed.

Biography of Ruby Mendenhall:
Ruby Mendenhall is an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She holds joint faculty appointments in Sociology, African American Studies, Urban and Regional Planning, and Social Work. She is currently a Faculty member at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and a Faculty Affiliate at the Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Women and Gender in Global Perspective, and Gender and Women Studies. She is the recipient of the Richard and Margaret Romano Professorial Scholar for outstanding achievements in research and leadership on campus. She is also a Grand Challenge Learning Teaching Fellow in the Health Track. Mendenhall’s research focuses on racial microaggressions in higher education. She examines how living in racially segregated neighborhoods with high levels of violence affects Black mothers’ mental and physical health using qualitative, quantitative and genomic analysis. She is attempting to recover Black women’s lost history by using topic modeling and data visualization to examine over 800,000 documents from 1740 to 2014. Mendenhall also does research on racial microaggressions and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). She teaches the following courses: Research Methods; Social Stratification; Urban Communities and Public Policy; Black Women in Contemporary U.S. Society; Genes and Behavior: Black Mothers in Englewood from Science to Society; and Stress and Health in Urban Communities. Her research has appeared in academic journals such as Social Forces, Social Science Research, Demography, Housing Policy Debate, The Review of Black Political Economy, The Black Scholar, and Social Service Review.
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